The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
W. Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act5, scene1)
Some people are intimidated when they hear the name William Shakespeare. Some immediately break into a cold sweat thinking about making sense of a sonnet or soliloquy. Not me. For me, Shakespeare speaks to me like an old friend, full of secrets to reveal and stories to tell. Every time I read him, I want to read more; I want to lose myself in the stories of madmen and kings, of lovers and losers, of the cowards and the heroes. I wish I could remember the first time I read something from Shakespeare. I’m sure it was middle school, a sonnet in a poetry lesson, and I’m sure that even then I knew it was something special. The way the words felt on the tongue as they were spoken aloud; the way the language helped create a whole new world. Up until that time, I had been a voracious reader, but then I became something else…I fell in love with the Bard and everything he wrote.
Throughout high school, I absorbed everything I could about Shakespeare, auditioning for plays and even winning the ultimate role in my young acting career – the smart-mouthed, desperate for love Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. We used sonnets as warm up exercises and I can still quote Sonnet 116 from memory. Every chance I got, I used a quote from Shakespeare to enhance my writing and my thoughts. We studied the “big” ones in class: Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Comedy of Errors, just to name a few. In my free time, I read the rest, absorbing the histories and the comedies with equal passion. I found pieces of my writing style and personality thanks to the sonnets. I attempted to write my own, to recreate the magic of Shakespeare’s voice.
I thought I did a reasonable job of hiding my Shakespeare obsession, but then my favorite English/Drama teacher gave me the perfect gift for my high school graduation: The Riverside Anthology. Perfect, crisp, and containing all of the Bards plays, I spent the summer before college merrily losing myself in the prose and poetry, oblivious to the fact that I was reading a textbook for fun. Before college even started. Once I got to school, I bid my time and took all the necessary credits to take not one, but two, classes on Shakespeare. In a time when I was a rebellious (aka LAZY) student, those were the classes I didn’t miss. While other struggled with finding the meaning and reciting the words in perfect pentameter, I relished every moment. I dissected every word, every meaning, every interpretation. Asking me to pick a favorite was a little like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. It just depended on the day, my mood and what was happening in the world around me.
Now, as an adult, I find Shakespeare in everything I do. His words may have been modernized, but they’re still there. I see his stories in modern television shows and movies. I hear his influence in contemporary fiction and writing. Heck, he even made it into an episode of Doctor Who. He still influences my writing and my thinking. In the middle of busy, stressful moments, I find peace in the rhythm and rhyme of his poetry, and the complete encapsulation of every human emotion in each of his plays.
Books come and go. Favorite authors stop writing or are replaced by someone new. People laugh off his greatness and tell me he’s too hard to understand. But Mr. Shakespeare will always be the first writer who completely captured my heart and moved me to believe in crazy, magical, mystical worlds outside my own.